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The Hummingbird: A Novel by Stephen P.…
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The Hummingbird: A Novel

by Stephen P. Kiernan

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Excellent book. Does not sugar coat either death or war. ( )
  shazjhb | Dec 10, 2017 |
In a Nutshell: Deborah Birch is a gifted hospice nurse experienced in guiding her patients and their families through the struggles of death and dying. Barclay Reed is a disgraced historian turned ornery old man who has summarily dismissed numerous nurses before turning to Deborah to see him through his final days. As Deborah struggles to care for the lonely, angry old man who challenges her to read the unpublished manuscript of the book that saw his career go down in flames, she also faces a challenge at home, that of her PTSD-afflicted veteran husband, Michael. As good as she is at helping those facing the hardest struggle of their lives, it may be that only an angry professor on his death bed can help her reach her husband before it’s too late.

The Good: The professor’s book happens to cover a little-known piece of World War II history (spoiler alert!!!!) that is based on actual events. Though its appearance interrupted the rest of the narrative, the story was a compelling surprise to me. (Okay, that’s all with the spoilers.) Deborah’s first person narrative of her successes and struggles as a hospice nurse is a unique window on what has to be one of the most difficult yet valuable professions.

The Bad: Deborah occasionally seems like a female character being written by a man, which... she is. She and her husband’s pet name for each other is “lover” and the way she lusts after her husband comes off very ...male. Also, I was consistently irritated that she was so attuned to her patients’ needs but so incredibly tone deaf to the “mood in the room” when interacting with her own husband. Some of Deborah’s experiences in hospice, are bit too textbook-y, as if Kiernan read up on a bunch of manuals about how to practically deal with death and dying and plugged them into his novel in too close to non-fiction format.

The Verdict: Somehow I’ve now managed to read Stephen Kiernan’s whole catalog so far, and I can tell you that The Hummingbird is my least favorite of the three. The whole narrative seems a bit wooden at times which kept me from fully engaging with a book that should have been an emotional roller coaster. The Hummingbird has its high points, but it didn’t feel genuine enough to really reel me in. ( )
  yourotherleft | Nov 24, 2017 |
Deborah Birch is a hospice nurse assigned to tend to Professor Reed in his final weeks or months. The Professor is known for being a bit...difficult. He's already gone through several hospice nurses, and Deborah doesn't hold out much hope that she'll last much longer. Even sweet Nurse Sara with her positive and upbeat personality only lasted three days with the Professor.

So what chance does Deborah have with Professor Reed?

But as it turns out, the Professor seems to have taken a liking of sorts to Nurse Birch. And at the end, he shares with her his yet unpublished final book about a little known story from WWII and a Japanese pilot by the name of Ichiro Soga.

Through the sharing of his book, the Professor is helping Deborah to better understand her husband Michael, who is an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD.

I really liked Nurse Deborah Birch. She is calm and level-headed and straight-forward. She is a woman of compassion and understanding, but she doesn't pull any punches.

Professor Reed is cantankerous, but I actually really liked him as well. He reminded me a bit of a family friend that just passed away at 93 years of age. Presenting with biting remarks and a sharp mind that is hard to contend with, even in his advanced years, he can be a handful. (Actually now that I say that, I realize he reminds a little bit of my father, but "meaner".)

I liked the author's writing. It is very easy to read, yet there is some depth to it. I was impressed with the research that must have gone into this story.

My final word: I enjoyed this book. The characters were likable and fleshed out. The writing I found to be insightful and compassionate. It's an easy read, but not too easy. It includes an interesting peek into World War II, as well as hospice care and therapy, and the sufferings of our soldiers returning home with PTSD. I was a little nervous going in, but actually wound up liking the book quite a lot. I think I will be recommending this one to my book club. ( )
  nfmgirl2 | Jan 10, 2017 |
The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan is an emotionally gripping very highly recommended novel with three distinct themes. It covers hospice care, PTSD, and a WWII Japanese bomber.

Deborah Birch is an experienced hospice nurse in Portland, Oregon, who knows that it's not about her. She firmly believes that "every patient, no matter how sick or impoverished, gives lasting gifts to the person entrusted with his care." This is why she sweeps her thumb down the back of a wooden hummingbird that a patient carved for her before she sees a new patient. She has been called into assist retired professor Barclay Reed, an expert on the Japanese in WWII. Reed has terminal kidney cancer and no family. He is bitter and tests each new nurse - and he's had many.

Deborah also believes that the measure of a vow does not lie in upholding it when things are easy, but, rather, your commitment is proven in times of difficulty. Her husband Michael is surely testing the strength of her vows. He has returned from his third deployment to Iraq a changed man. He is plagued by nightmares and anxiety. He is distant, cold, angry, and terrified. Deborah is desperate to find a way to help him recover and save their marriage.

After Deborah makes a breakthrough with Professor Reed, she confides in him about the difficulties with her husband. He is sure that he knows the secret to helping Michael. Reed feels that to help Michael, first Deborah needs to understand the code of a warrior. Although Reed left his academic career amid a scandal, he has the book he was working on at his home. He has Deborah read the book aloud to him.

The book is about WWII Japanese pilot Ichiro Soga, a descendant of samurais, who took off from a submarine in a light plane on a mission to bomb the forests in Oregon. Soga later atoned for the bombing. Reed is sure that the story will give Deborah the key to help Michael on the road to recovery. But, she must promise that she will decide if the story is true only after reading it and without consulting any outside sources. Between chapters of the novel is the professor's story of Soga. As the professor worsens (and perhaps Michael too), the story of Soga unfolds.

Kiernan does an excellent job handling the three themes. The information and stories of past cases Deborah shares as a hospice nurse is heartbreaking, but her commitment to her work is clear; her patience is laudable. You can see her courage, care, and temperament demonstrated in her current job helping Professor Reed. Then there is Michael's PTSD and Deborah's commitment to help him. It is certainly another timely topic and a real problem that many families face. The final subject is Soga's story, which is based on a real person, Nabuo Fujita, and real historical information.

The quality of Kiernan's writing is admirable. The novel flows smoothly and held my rapt attention beginning to end. But, most of all, Deborah is a wonderful, fully realized character. I like her.

It's always a pleasure to read a book that gives a nod to the intelligence of the reader and that is the case here. We have three very different topics all making an appearance in this novel, and all three are interesting and worthy of a novel in their own right. The message of absolution and forgiveness is timeless and is integrated into all three storylines, albeit in different ways. The two are a part of the story, while the story of Soga is truly a story within the novel itself. It was an effective way to integrate Soga's journey into the present daily activity.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Jul 5, 2016 |
You might not think that hospice and war have much in common. But they do. Both concern death in one way or another. Even so, they are opposites on the spectrum. One's goal is to accept and die with dignity. The other's goal is the subjugate and force violent death. There is no winning a battle in hospice; the only release comes with death. In war, a soldier can survive, but the cost is high indeed. Stephen P. Kiernan's newest novel, The Hummingbird, showcases both hospice and war and the lessons to be learned from both.

Deb Birch is a hospice nurse who has just been assigned to a new patient. Barclay Reed is an academic whose work was discredited due to accusations of plagiarism. His area of expertise is the Pacific theater in WWII and he's dying of kidney cancer. He's difficult and proud, a curmudgeon with everyone but he develops a grudgingly respectful relationship with Deb. Deb is very good at what she does, defusing difficult situations and finding ways for her patients to accept death with dignity. But she can't seem make this same connection with her husband. Michael is back from his third deployment in Iraq and unlike after previous tours, he doesn't appear to be healing at all from the horrors he was asked to witness and to commit. Their marriage, once so strong, is fraying under the stress. So daily Deb goes from work with a dying man to home and a husband who is dying inside. She is holding tight and trying to discover ways to walk judgment free beside her husband. Astonishingly, Barclay Reed and his unpublished manuscript about a Japanese pilot who dropped incendiaries on the Oregon forests during WWII might be giving her the tools to do just this.

There are three distinct plot threads here: Deb caring for Reed, Deb and Michael's agonizing emotional distance as a result of his combat experiences, and the story of pilot warrior Ichiro Soga during and after the war. The tale of Soga inspires Deb's attempts to help Michael, which in turn offer Barclay Reed a vital lesson even in his waning days. In a few instances the lessons from one to the other are too easy. Even so, they do show us how we can learn from all human experiences, how to accept, how to forgive, and how to go forth to whatever awaits us with courage and peace. That the story of Ichiro Soga is based on a true WWII story, although fictionalized to serve this particular plot, is fascinating indeed. Deb is really the main character here though, caring as she does for the people in her life with secondary charactrs Reed and Michael adding dimensions to her as a caregiver.

Kiernan has written a touching novel about healing, forgiveness, and peace. His rendering of PTSD and the ways in which we routinely fail our returning soldiers, so unprepared for regular non-combatant life, is heartbreaking and scary. Deb's job as a hospice nurse is one that has to be difficult, especially as she tiptoes around Michael, trying to reach him in ways similar to the ways she is trying to help Reed reflect back on the important things in his life. Just as these characters grapple with what and who we carry with us, out of guilt or love, throughout our lives, the reader will also carry the lessons they impart. An emotional and nicely done novel about the peace we can find in death or acceptance, this has something both for historical fiction fans and those interested in the post war lives of our soldiers. ( )
  whitreidtan | Jun 28, 2016 |
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In memory of Melissa Millan
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All I knew at the beginning was that the first two nurses assigned to the Professor had not lasted twelve days, and now it was my turn.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062369547, Hardcover)

From the author of the acclaimed The Curiosity comes a compelling and moving story of compassion, courage, and redemption.

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had.

At the same time, Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons.

Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of loving commitment, service to country, and absolution through wisdom and forgiveness.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 01 Jul 2015 15:01:00 -0400)

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had. At the same time, Deborah's primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons.… (more)

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